Belly Bump … Naadam Video is LIVE!
Mongolia’s annual Naadam festival celebrates the country’s three manly sports; archery, horse racing and wrestling. The largest and most important festival is held every year in the capital city of Ulan Bator with some 300k Mongolians making epic treks across the steppe to watch their favorite wrestlers compete for what is essentially immortality. However, not every Mongolian can make the trek, so many local communities hold smaller Naadams in the weeks surrounding the main event in order to relax, drink some airag and watch their local wrestling heroes compete. Ten days ago I left Ulan Bator by motorcycle and rode to Tsetserleg to compete in both a local sum (Erdenebulgan) and aimag (Arkhangai) Naadam wrestling tournaments which were held on the 6th and 10th/11th of the month, respectively.
To gain entrance into the Arkhangai aimag’s Naadam wrestling tournament – an almost exclusively Mongolian event – I stayed busy the past ten days making nice with national officials, meeting local coaches and eating dinner with translators. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to hire production crew or advanced team and there is no Discovery Channel badge to flash in the faces of quick-to-please officials – everything was organic and built on whatever trust we could create with the local denizens. All of the good fortune I have experienced since arriving is directly attributable to their desire to help and perseverance when things were at their gloomiest. Without their assistance I’d almost certainly be sitting back in Ulan Bator watching Naadam on television, drinking vodka and dreaming of what could have been possible. However with their help … well, you’ll see.
I’ll be sure to write the story of my incredible luck and the wrangling it took to gain entrance and then document this particular Naadam in a few days, but right now I want to show you an incredible video made my new friend and colleague Colin Sternagel – a former high school wrestler and soon-to-be professional filmmaker currently living in Mongolia. He not only committed his video and editing skills to the Wrestling Roots project, has also endured epic 12-hour commutes on tightly crammed mini-busses just to make it to the filming location. He’s a good and talented man.
A few facts about the video you are about to watch. The wrestlers all competed at the Arkhangai Naadam on July 10th and 11th. The tournament hosted 256 participants over eight rounds of wrestling. The rules are simple: first to touch any part of their body to the the ground other than their hands or feet is the loser. Matches are carefully crafted by tournament officials – most of whom are looking to advance certain competitors into the 5th round of competition thereby earning those individuals a highly coveted regional ranking. There is no random draw. My first opponent was a highly regarded, regionally ranked wrestler hand-chosen by the committee to quickly and dramatically oust me from the competition. This much they told my translator as we signed in for the tournament.
Enjoy the video and be sure to post comments below and on the YouTube site. I will update with full results, another video and plenty more information and context as soon as possible.